Our final "Introducing" of 2019 isn't going to be one of our usual articles looking at a specific fighter but instead a look back at some of the fighters we've mentioned during the last 12 months, ahead of the changes we'll be making to these articles in the coming year.
Since we started this way back on January 8th we've looked at some winners, some losers and some fighters who's future isn't as clear as we'd have hoped. We won't go through all 50 fighters here, but we will talk about those who have have shined the most, and those who have disappointed the most.
The first Introducing saw us talk about Mikito Nakano, who was 1-0 (1) at the time and has since added 3 wins, all inside the distance. He has gone from a good novice into a fine prospect and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him fighting for a title in 2020.
Just a week later we spoke about Ginjiro Shigeoka, who was also 1-0 (1) and his rise has been legitimately meteoric. In just his fourth bout he claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title and if he picks up a win on New Year's Eve, against Rey Loreto, there is no doubt that he will be in the world title mix in 2020.
We spoke about Shokichi Iwata in week 25 and since then he has scored back to back TKO5 wins, with both of those victories coming on massive Japanese cards. The 23 year old Teiken prospect looks like he has the potential to go all the way to the top, and to do so quickly. He has shown he can box, or brawl, and whilst he may not quite have figured out his style in the ring he already looks like a special talent.
What a year Andy Hiraoka has had! We featured him in week 26, when he was then 13-0 (9) and since then he has scored the biggest win of his career, signed with Top Rank and made his US debut. The talented 140lb'der showed he could go 10, as he did in victory over Akihiro Kondo, and looked very good in his American show case in November.
Another man who has had a great year is Toshiya Ishii, who was covered in week 33. He made his debut in April, took the unbeaten record of Fumiya Fuse in August then took the Japanese Youth Bantamweight title in December. His win Fuse, who we covered in an introducing article in week 4 was impressive but his war with Ishikawa was something special and we advise all fans to give that a watch.
In week 34 we looked at Yudai Shigeoka and although he didn't debut for a few weeks after that he has shone since some much. His debut was an easy win over a Thai, but despite the ease of the win he showed so much ability, brilliant crisp punching, fantastic movement and ring IQ. He then followed that up with a win over Lito Dante and looks set to have a monstrous 2020, following in his brother's footsteps.
In week 9 we looked at Yoji Saito, who entered the year 1-1 (1) and looked like a huge punching monster. He fought twice in 2019, and went 0-0-2. Notably his first bout of the year, a draw with Aso Ishiwaki, looks very good on reflection and Ishiwaki used that bout as a great opportunity to shine, and was the focus of his own "Introducing" in week 38!
In week 17 we discussed Tsubasa Murachi and his year is a really tricky one to try and dissect. On one hand he impressed, in his win over Raymong Tabugon, and there was clearly skill and ambition with the youngster. But on the other hand he ended the year in September, following a brutal KO loss to Froilan Saludar, and the road back up to that level is going to be a rough journey for the 22 year old. Don't write him off, but he's going to have to go back to the drawing board.
Another man who is hard to get a good read on was Kai Ishizawa who may take more credit from his loss to Masataka Taniguchi in September, than most fighters take from a win. He was fantastic in defeat, he showed his toughness, his braveness, his power and his will to win. Sadly he lacked in technical areas, and Taniguchi was too good for him, but the reality is that both men came out with enhanced reputations. Sadly it was still a loss, and his one other bout this year was a blow out against an over-matched Indonesian
We love watching Christiano Aoqui, who we introduced in week 40, and despite a loss to Daishi Nagata following our article it's hard to write off the hard hitting Japanese-Brazilian, who has lost in the past and bounced back. He's never going to be a world beater but we expect him to remain in the domestic title mix next year.
Well we got that one wrong
In week 35 we spoke about the return of Teppei Kayanuma, who was supposed to fight in September. Though didn't. And we're not totally sure why. We are hoping that changes, and that he does return to the ring, but with more than 3 years since his last bout it now seems unlikely.
For week 46 we spoke about Dominique Kenshin, by this point we were trying to tweak the formula slightly and pick fighters who were in action during the week of the article, and as a result felt Kenshin was the man to cover. That was the wrong choice and he was was stopped in a round by Hiro Ichimichi. He's not fought since, and being honest he has a lot of work to do, in every part of his boxing.
Changes Will be Made
So as for 2020, "Introducing..." is changing. We are taking it more international, and instead of being exclusively Japanese fighters, as it was in 2019, we will be looking around Asia for fighters to cover. Whilst the key focus will, again, be prospects, we aren't going to be too rigid in that and we'll look at covering other fighters we find interesting as the year goes on. This could mean anyone from novice, to journeyman, fringe contender to prospects. The only fighters we'll not cover in this section are clear world level fighters. We want to shine a light on a fighter without much attention, and the hope is that we help a bring a fans attention to a fighter they aren't aware of. In 2019 we generally had good success picking our prospects, and we hope that continues in 2020.
See you in the new year for the next "Introducing...", and the next chance to see a light shined on a fighter you may not have even knew existed!
(Image credits - Kadoebi and Teiken)
The month of November has a been weird one, with stretches of time without anything happening, and then flurries of action. It's been an inconsistent month, but a month that, overall, massively over-delivered, with several sensational bouts, a host of upsets, and some massive KO's. This was less a month of consistency and more a month of highlights!
Fighter of the Month
The Fighter of the Month was one of the easiest categories this month, with Naoya Inoue clearly taking the honours here. His 12 round decision win over Nonito Donaire is one of the best wins of the year, and came in one the best bouts of the year. The bout, of course, was the WBSS Bantamweight final and saw Inoue walk away with the WBA, IBF and Ring magazine titles as well as the Muhammad Ali Trophy. He was tested, he was rocked, he was caught and he answered more questions in 12 rounds than he had in all of his previous bouts combined.
Fight of the Month
Naoya Inoue Vs Nonito Donaire
The WBSS Bantamweight final wasn't the final most people really wanted but it was the final we deserved, and turned out to be a sensational 12 round bout, mixing pulsating back and forth, with drama, both men being hurt and top level boxing. The fight saw two men fight with vastly different styles, but those styles gelled perfectly and we ended up with something very special. Inoue looked the better overall boxer but Donaire's power always looked a threat, and the amount of punishment both men took was staggering. This was one of those bouts that it all, and was for the very highest of stakes. A great bout.
Takuya Watanabe Vs Taiki Minamoto
Jae Woo Lee Vs Tsuyoshi Tameda
KO of the Month
Luke Boyd KO1 Jon Jon Jet
Sadly this month the KO of the month saw an Asian fighter being on the wrong end of it, with previously unbeaten Indonesian Jon Jon Jet being taken out by the crude but hard hitting Luke Boyd. Boyd was swinging for the fences from the off, and a huge right hand landed clean as a whistle on Jet who crashed to the canvas in eye catching fashion. This wasn't great for Indonesian boxing, given that Jet was regarded as a bit of a hopeful, but it was a brilliant KO.
Despite their being a lot of great fights and a number of solid upsets, which we'll get on to shortly, there was strangely a lack of standout performances from fighter we regard as prospects. Thankfully though their was one performance that did catch the eye and that was the US debut of Andy Hiraoka. The Top Rank promoted 23 year old had the perfect US debut as he took out Rodelio Casarez in 2 rounds and took his chance to shine. Whilst his opponent wasn't up to much this was perfectly acceptable for his first bout outside of Japan, and he is certainly going to be someone turning heads in the coming years.
Kenbati Haiyilao vs Nick Frese
One thing we had a lot of in November was upsets. They might not have come at the top level, but they did come rather frequently. The one that shocked us the most was the victory by Chinese fighter Kenbati Haiyilao, who defeated the touted Thai based Dutchman Nick Frese. The unheralded Haiyilao was fighting out of China for the first time, and was 2-2-1 in his previous 5. There was nothing to suggest he was any kind of a threat to Frese's unbeaten record, but he shocked us all by out boxing Frese in a real surprise of a result. Frese was never hurt, but was regularly coming off second best and struggling with the basics from Haiyilao, something that was a genuine surprise.
Jhon Gemino Vs Arnold Alejandro
Jae Woo Lee Vs Tsuyoshi Tameda
Johnriel Casimero Vs Zolani Tete
Naoya Inoue Vs Nonito Donaire (11)
We go full circle here, and head back to the WBSS final for the brilliant Inoue Vs Donaire fight. It had a number of great rounds, but the best of them was the 11th, which had incredible drama, weird officiating, and amazing action. The round saw Inoue really hurt Donaire for the first time, dropping him with a body shot. It saw the referee body check the Monster as he went in for the finish, it saw Donaire some how get back to his feet, withstanding some huge shots, and then rocking Inoue late in the round. It had everything that was great about the fight, all compacted into 3 minutes of sheet brilliance. This was one of the vert best rounds of the year, not just the best round of the month.
Although November has been a rather bitty month, with a great start and a weak middle, there is plenty to be excited about in the last couple of weeks of the month, with a very interesting mix of fights coming through in what's left of the month.
Eruka Hiromoto (5-0) vs Sana Hazuki (7-4-1, 2) - Yamaguchi, Japan
In Yamaguchi on the 17th we'll see OPBF female Minimumweight champion Eruka Hiromoto defending her title for the first time, as she takes on the aggressive Sana Hazuki in a very interesting match up. The teenage champion looked less than spectacular in her title win, but is a very clear talent with a lot of potential and ambition, and her team have spoken about her challenging for a world title in 2020. Hazuki isn't a big name but she's a handful at this type of level, win or lose, and she could be the sort of fighter who makes Hiromoto pay for her lack of power.
Riku Kano (15-4-1, 8) Vs Tetsuya Mimura (8-1, 1) - Kobe, Japan
Former world title challenger Riku Kano looks to continue his career rebuild as he takes on the once beaten Tetsuya Mimura, a 2018 Rookie of the Year finalist. This should be a really interesting fight between two talented youngsters, and although it's unlikely to end early it is a really meaningful fight, and the winner will almost certainly see themselves in the mix for some form of regional title in 2020.
Daud Yordan (39-4-0-1, 27) Vs Michael Mokoena (15-4, 10) - Batu, Indonesia
It's hard to deny that we all love Daud Yordan, the Indian veteran has been flying the flag almost solo for Indonesian boxing the last few years. Here we see him look to claim the WBO Oriental Light Welterweight title as he takes on Tanzania's Michael Mokoena. We suspect Yordan will have to much for Mokoena, but the Indonesian has taken a lot of punishment during his long career and he could end up feeling the effects of that long career at any point.
Ongen Saknosiwi (7-0, 7) vs Marco Demecillo (24-8-1, 19) - Batu, Indonesia
Whilst Yordan has flown the flag solo for Indonesian boxing several prospecta have come and gone, including the likes of Iwan Zoda, Defry Palulu and most recently Jon Jon Jet. The latest rising Indonesian looking to make their mark is Ongen Saknosiwi, who takes a massive leap up in class here as he faces Filipino veteran Marco Demecillo. A win here will give Saknosiwi's career a monster boost and put him on the fast track, whilst a loss will see him become the latest Indonesian prospect to have his career derailed before it really got going.
Can Xu (17-2, 3) vs Manny Robles III (18-0, 8) - California, USA
One of the biggest bouts from the second half of November will see China's Can Xu defending his WBA Featherweight title against the unbeaten Manny Robles III. On paper this looks brilliant, and in the ring we expect it to be even better. Xu, despite his lack of power, is a very strong fighter who walks through hell fire and brimstone if he needs to. Robles is a more technically capable fighter, but often finds himself fighting the wrong fight and if he gets into a war with Xu we could have a legitimate contender for Fight of the Year on our hands. Xu's pressure will be key as will Robles' concentration, and we are expecting a very, very fan friendly bout here.
Zolani Tete (28-3, 21) v John Riel Casimero (28-4, 19) - West Midlands, United Kingdom
Another world title towards the end of the month will see South African fighter Zolani Tete return to face Filipino John Riel Casimero. Tete, who has been out of the ring for more than a year, enters the bout as the WBO Bantamweight champion whilst Casimero is the interim champion and will be looking to pick up another big win on the road. Coming in to this both men will be looking at a potential showdown with WBA and IBF champion Naoya Inoue, and will need to win here to keep that potential bout alive.
Zhilei Zhang (20-0, 16) Vs Sergey Kuzmin (15-1, 11) - Monte Carlo, Monaco
There is, of course, something about the Heavyweight division that intrigues us all and we'll actually have a rare bout with an Asian interest in the division at the end of November when unbeaten Chinese hopeful Zhilei Zhang take on once beaten Russian Sergey Kuzmin. Both of these fighters were former amateur standouts, and although both are the wrong side of 30 this could still be a very significant bout, with the winner likely to find themselves in the world title mix. Sadly coming into this Zhang has been out of the ring for more than a year whilst Kuzmin was beaten last time out, with both of those facts taking some shine off what this contest could have been 6 months ago.
Andy Hiraoka (14-0, 9) v Rogelio Casarez (13-8, 5) - Nevada, USA
Unbeaten Ohashi gym prospect Andy Hiraoka makes his US debut at the end of the month as he takes on Rogelio Casarez in what looks like an easy introduction to the American boxing scene. Hiraoka, a Japanese-Ghanaian fighter, has trained over in the US in the past and is regarded highly in Japan, though this will be a very different test to anythign he's faced before. Casarez will be the under-dog but will come out looking to upset the unbeaten hopeful. A nice teast for Hiraoka's first bout on US soil.
This past week we really saw action pick up in a big way, with a number of notable Japanese cards which created headlines, a major upset in Russia and a card in Saudi Arabia. It's a week that felt so much different to recent weeks and it's very clear that business is picking up, after a dreary June.
Fighter of the Week
Ryota Murata (15-2, 12)
When a fighter loses in fashion that sees them being dominated, especially in an upset, it can be easy to write them off. We certainly did that last year when Ryota Murata was beaten by Rob Brant. This week however Murata showed he shouldn't be written off as he avenged his loss to Brant in shocking fashion, beating Brant in 2 rounds, and forcing the referee to save the American, who was wobbling and had been down. This was not what we were expecting from Murata, but we're so glad to have seen him show what he can do, reclaim the WBA "regular" Middleweight title. Although Murata has so much ability this was the first time he's truly shown that ability, and we're really hoping he can build on this win. Sadly though much of his career has been flat and this performance may end up being little more than an anomaly.
Performance of the Week
Joe Noynay (18-2-1, 7)
Filipino youngster Joe Noynay has been written off as the under-dog far too many times in his career, and this past Friday he showed that fighters, and fans, need to take notice of him. He travelled to Japan, dropped Olympic bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu 3 times, twice in the opening round, and successfully defended the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title. Although not a puncher this was Noynay's second straight stoppage win in Japan and he is going to be getting himself a serious reputation as a Japanese Killer, similar to that off forgotten Filipino Bantamweight Jess Maca.
Andy Hiraoka, Kenshiro, Rolden Aldea
Naoko Fujioka Vs Tenkai Tsunami
When we have two of the best female fighters on the planet facing off we can always expect a dark horse of a fight, and that's what we got this week with a thrilling 10 round battle between the legendary Naoko Fujioka and the under-rated Tenkai Tsunami. The bout, was engaging, swung one way then the other and was almost impossible to call. It was one of the bouts that had the potential to be something special, and it delivered. in a big way, again showing what happens when two top, world class, well matched female fighters face off. Given the result, the action and the way the bout was fought we're really hoping to see the two run it over again, and give us another special bout.
Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa vs Koki Tyson (RD 12)
One thing we didn't expect this week was for for the OPBF Middleweight title to remain vacant. We expected Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa and Koki Tyson to give us a shoot out, with one man eventually taking the other out to take the crown. Surprisingly however we got the opposite with the two men competing in a 12 round fight that had some dull moments but was a thoroughly engaging contest with tactical holding from Tyson and bombs from both. Despite some sloppy action at times the final round was great, with both firing off some bombs, and the round got better as it went on, with a loud fan base cheering on Tyson. It won't go down as a Round of the Year contender, but with the atmosphere, the huge power shots from both and the clear desire this was a great round, and a fantastic ending to a fight we had expected to be over much, much earlier.
Roldan Aldea KO8 Mikhail Alexeev
For much of the week it seemed like Kenshiro's TKO over Jonathan Taconing, to retain the WBC Light Flyweight title, was going to take the honour of the best stoppage of the week. It wasn't a clear KO but it was a beautiful finish of a usually durable Filipino. Instead however it was Filipino journeyman Roldan Aldea that stole honour for the best KO, and did so in relatively notable upset in Russia. The unheralded Aldea Aldea was cornered by the previously unbeaten Mikhail Alexeev in round before landing a gorgeous uppercut that split the guard of Alexeev who had his senses turned off. It took a second or two, but after a slight delay Alexeev would then crash face down onto the canvas. This was a beauty of a shot, and one of the most eye catchign KO's of 2019. Truly fantastic from Aldea.
Andy Hiraoka (14-0, 9)
It's fair to say that Andy Hiraoka has been almost demanding a chance to show what he can do in recent months, being very much a frustrated man on social media and a young fighter simply wanting a chance. This week he got a chance, and he showed what he could do, as he clearly out boxed former world title challenger Akihiro Kondo to claim his first major scalp. The youngster showed poise, skills, speed and a solid ring IQ to score his best win to date, and the hope will surely be for him to fight for a senior title in 2020
Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39) Vs Keith Thurman (29-0-0-1, 22)
Despite having had a great week this past week the next few days are a bit lacking, though we do have 3 fights of real note featuring Asian fighters in the West. One of those will fee Filipino great Manny Pacquiao take on big talking American Keith Thurman, in a bout to unify the regular and super titles at Welterweight. The bout is a good one on paper and we're expecting to see both men being forced to answer big questions about their future. Sadly it's not the same bout it could have been a few years ago, but should still be a very interesting contest.
The middle portion of July is incredibly packed with a lot of action coming in just a few days, including 4 world title bouts, a regional title bout and several notable hopefuls. It really is set to be an insanely busy few days.
Unbeaten WBC Light Flyweight champion Kenshiro looks to make his next defense as he battles against hard hitting Filipino challenger Jonathan Taconing, who enters as the mandatory challenger. At the moment Kenshiro is arguably the most under-rated world champion in the sport, and is certainly the most under appreciated fighter in Japan. This however is no gimme for the champion and Taconing brings a real air of danger with him thanks to his hard hitting southpaw style. On paper this may end up being the bout of the month, and is a true boxer Vs banger affair.
We spend so much time talking about the Ohashi Gym in Yokohama that it can be really hard to truly grasp how much great talent is under the guidance of the legendary Hideyuki Ohashi. One of the many fighters at the gym looking to make a mark in the coming years is Light Welterweight Andy Hiraoka (13-0, 9), who already looks he could be a very special young fighter, though clearly needs time and work to get the most of his ability.
Although well known as a boxer now Hiraoka was a standout track athlete, and didn't really have much of an amateur career. His athletic background over-lapped with the early part of his boxing career and obviously he was a natural athlete, who was pushed into learning boxing by his father.
Hiraoka made his professional debut back in 2013, whilst not actually an Ohashi gym fighter. He was originally signed to the Hanagata gym, run by former Flyweight world champion Susumu Hanagata. It was under Mr Hanagata that Hiraoka first made his mark on the sport, winning the 2014 East Japan Rookie of the year crown at Lightweight, beating Shintaro Nakamura in the final. That had set him up for an All Japan Rookie of the Year, whilst aged just 18.
Sadly Hiraoka's dream of becoming the Rookie of the Year champion came to an end early as illness left him unable to compete in the All Japan final against Shogo Yamaguchi. Notably around the same time he took part in a major distance race, seemingly unclear on what option he wanted to do.
After missing out on the Rookie of the Year final it was almost 2 years before we saw Hiraoka return to a boxing ring. When he did return, in 2016, he was signed to the Ohashi gym, and had returned following a lengthy stay in the US, where he trained at the Floyd Mayweather Gym in Las Vegas, and worked with the likes of Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Roger Mayweather, really working on his skills and ring craft.
Upon Hiraoka's return to competition he quickly took out a pair of Thai novices, getting a feel of the ring again. After a couple of straight forward bouts he finally faced Shogo Yamaguchi, the man he was supposed to fight in the Rookie of the Year tournament, and despite some struggles he managed to see off Yamaguchi in the 6th round. The win over Yamaguchi seemed to expunge some frustration of missing out in 2014.
Following his win over Yamaguchi we then saw Hiraoka enter a 4 man tournament to crown a Japanese Youth Light Welterweight champion. In his first bout of the tournament Hiraoka scored a 3rd round TKO over Ukyo Yoshigai in August 2017. That win netted him a bout against Takahiko Kobayashi for the Japanese Youth title just weeks later.
Despite having been stopped twice to facing Hiraoka we saw no fear from Kobayashi who got off to a great start, out boxing and out landing Hiraoka who really struggled through the first 4 rounds. Thankfully for Hiraoka the effort of Kobayashi took it's toll on him, and he would slow down,allowing Hiraoka's strength and stamina to play a part. In round 5 Koabayashi fell apart with Hiraoka forcing a stoppage win and claiming the title, and his biggest win to date.
Having won the Japanese Youth title in November 2017 Hiraoka would kick off his 2018 with an 8 round decision win over Fumisuke Kimura, in a none-title fight. The win was a really mature one from Hiraoka, but one that did really excite many at the time, with Kimura not being regarded very highly. It is worth noting however that since that bout Kimura has gone on to stop Hayato Ono and Giraffe Kirin Kanda.
Hiraoka would then make his first defense of the title, defeating Ukyo Yoshigai last September in his only defense of the belt so far. Like their first bout Hiraoka would stop Yoshigai in the third round to retain his title.
Later this month Hiraoka takes a huge step up in class to face off with former world title challenger Akihiro Kondo. The bout is set to be a massive test for Hiraoka, who knows that a win will boost his career in incredibly ways, but is certainly a a tough test and a win is far from a given, even with Kondo being stopped earlier this year by Downua Ruawaiking. A win and he is immediately in the OPBF title picture, however a loss will be a big set back for the confident youngster.
Aged 22 has over-come battles from child hood. His mother is Japanese and his father is from Ghana, giving him darker skin than most in Japan, and he is also very tall for someone in the country. He stands out from most in Japan, but given his athletic background it should be little surprise that he has fought to the point where he is now and looks to be fighting towards big success. He's a really strong, powerful kid, and despite being rough around the edges he has the build and athletic ability to go a long way. It's now just a case of whether those at the Ohashi can smooth off his rough edges and develops him from the diamond in the rough that he is today.
It's fair to say that March was a spotty month, with some real ups and downs, and little in terms on consistency. April however looks to be a month packed with great fights through the month, particularly in Japan where things really are a bit crazy!
April 6th-Naoya and Takuma. The champion is a true veteran, who won the Rookie of the Year more than a decade ago, and has battled through the Japanese scene the hard way. Inoue on the other hand was a touted amateur who has been avoided at times on the domestic stage, but will see this as a great chance to announce himself as a rising star. The styles of the men should make for a very special fight.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces